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Laker Gas Tank Hits 'E' in Memphis

I'm still not sure how the Lakers even had a shot at the end. Most of the night they'd spent stacking the deck against themselves. They turned the ball over abundantly. They missed free throws. They didn't work the offense to get clean looks. They missed some more free throws.

It required generous bumbling on the part of the Memphis Grizzlies to turn it into a close game. With seven seconds left in the first quarter, Rudy Gay fired up a half-court prayer, apparently thinking... what? There were 0.7 seconds left? He missed, natch, and the Lakers got a free possession, which Kobe Bryant converted for three. The Grizz missed plenty of open Js throughout the night, and Mike Conley honked a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left in the game and Memphis up a deuce. That led to Kobe finding Ron Artest in the corner for a pretty decent long-ball that would've won the game, but it rimmed out. 95 to 93 was the final score.

C'est la guerre. But hey, at least Andrew Bynum didn't hurt himself. By this point, I think we've learned not to take that for granted.

This was another schedule loss, straight up. Yeah, it sucks to come so close and still get the L, but this was going to be a rough night no matter what. It was the last day of the eight-game death march, and the war in Boston wrapped up only 24 hours before. The Laker legs were tired, and it showed. Remember that long run of home games back in December? Tonight the bill came due.

Kobe was pretty much the only Laker who hadn't mentally returned to LA already. Ron had some decent moments but too many not-decent ones as well. Pau Gasol tooled on rookie Hasheem Thabeet but was otherwise MIA. Bynum was MIA from beginning to end. Kobe was left to drive the offense by his own self. He kicked ass for the most part but didn't get nearly enough help. What is this, 2006?

(As you're already aware, Kobe passed Jerry West to become the Lakers' all-time leading franchise scorer tonight. I'm guessing that doesn't make him feel any better about how this game came out. Still, tip o' the cap to the Mamba for hitting that milestone.)

There were four chief Laker probs tonight. Here they are, in ascending order of importance. Count along with me.

1.  Turnovers! 16% of Lake Show possessions ended without a shot. This, a day after they turned it over on 18% of their possessions against the Celtics. Taking care of the rock has been a Laker strength all year, and they need to get back to it. Five of their 15 turnovers tonight were committed by Artest.

2.  Free Throws! Ten misses in 27 attempts? Yuck. Eight of the 10 misses were by Kobe and Pau. LA made only 63% of their FTAs compared to a season average of 78%. They did get a tad lucky in that Memphis shot only 69% from the line, but the Grizz are only a 74% free-throw shooting team on the season. If both teams shoot their season averages tonight, that's a two-point swing in the Lakers' favor.

3.  The Bench! What is this "bench" you speak of? Lamar Odom pulled in nine rebounds, which is nice, and Jordan Farmar was somehow credited with five assists, and that's the whole list of nice things to say about the reserves. They combined for 14 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Come on, fellas. You're not making it easy for me to defend you.

4.  Offensive Rebounds! As in, there weren't nearly enough of them. The Lakers rebounded only 12% of their own misses (season average: 27%) and produced only seven second-chance points, none in the second half. That's on the big men. Drew, Pau and Lamar did OK on the defensive glass, but didn't battle hard enough for second and third shots. Gotta do better, dudes.

So the road trip comes to an end, with the Lakers having won five of the eight games. Any of the three losses could've swung the other way; the same could be said of one of the five wins. It could've gone better, it could've gone worse, but the Lakers return home healthier than they left and within sight of Cleveland in the standings. On Wednesday they host Charlotte in the always exciting Adam Morrison Bowl.











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